Patronis pressure leads to regulator’s exit
Florida Politics

Patronis pressure leads to regulator’s exit

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s embattled top financial regulator resigned amid pressure for his removal from state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

In a letter submitted late Thursday to Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear said he would leave the post at the end of June “to ensure a smooth transition for the agency.”

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the state of Florida, and I look forward to retirement,” Breakspear wrote.

Breakspear also defended his agency for its progress, accomplishments and “positive relationships with the financial services industry, stakeholders, and our state and federal counterparts.”

The future of the office is expected to be discussed by Scott and the Cabinet — Patronis, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi — on June 13.

Taking a lighter tone than when he called to remove the regulator, Patronis said in a statement Friday he appreciated Breakspear’s years of service to the state and wished him “all the best in his future endeavors.”

“During his time as commissioner, he had an understanding of the financial needs of Floridians, and it is my hope his years of service will help ensure a smooth transition for Florida consumers and stakeholders,” Patronis, who was appointed CFO last year by Scott, said in a prepared statement.

Patronis’ office had said he received numerous calls for a new top regulator from mortgage and security industry leaders who had clashed with the agency.

In announcing his push to remove Breakspear on May 3, Patronis pointed to a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication” from Breakspear’s office.

Earlier this week, Patronis spokeswoman Anna Alexopoulos Farrar outlined a number of issues to support Breakspear’s potential removal, from poor decision-making and a failure to follow emerging trends and technology to “a lack of responsiveness to our office and others.”

One of the issues dealt with a sexual-harassment allegation involving employees of the Office of Financial Regulation during an after-hours event. An agency deputy declined to take action on the allegation.

As Patronis went public, Scott and other members of the Cabinet deferred comment pending a Cabinet review, a stance that did not change after Breakspear’s resignation.

“The appropriate time to address this matter is during an open and public meeting of the governor and Cabinet,” Putnam spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in an email Friday.

Patronis, who said he already had an interim replacement in mind, needed support from Scott and one other Cabinet member to make the leadership change.

Any replacement still faces the prospect of being replaced at the start of 2019, after a new governor takes office. Also, Bondi and Putnam are term-limited this year from their Cabinet posts, and Patronis is running for re-election.

In his resignation letter, Breakspear bullet-pointed areas of accomplishments by his office, such as reducing the time to issue licenses from 22 days in 2012 to five days and assessing emerging issues such as cryptocurrencies, cybersecurity, marijuana and banking and Native American banking related to tribal sovereignty.

“The OFR was recently reappointed to a third consecutive term on (the U.S. Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s) Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group,” Breakspear noted. “Consecutive appointments are unusual, and this unique relationship is a result of FinCEN’s assessment that Florida is the best state with whom to work.”

A Naples resident with an MBA from Harvard, Breakspear has been in the $135,158-a-year position since 2012. A longtime executive in international banking and management consulting, he had been an executive vice president and general auditor at Boston-based State Street Corp. prior to taking the state job.

Patronis’ push was the second time Breakspear faced public pressure for his removal.

Scott went after Breakspear, along with a couple of other agency heads, in 2015. The effort was blocked by then-Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater as Cabinet members questioned the involvement of Scott’s office in the controversial exit of longtime Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Atwater left the Cabinet for a job with Florida Atlantic University in June 2017. Scott replaced him with Patronis, a former state legislator and longtime Scott political ally who had previously been appointed by the governor to the Public Service Commission.

Patronis is running for a full term this year and is expected to face a challenge in the November election from Democrat Jeremy Ring, a former state senator from Broward County.

(News Service of Florida)

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